Friday, November 5, 2010

The Last Chance Express

Plan: Get to Cusco overland from Lima. I have no idea how many kilometers or miles it is, but basically the Andes lie somewhere in the way so the most ¨direct¨looking route is actually something close to 30 hours. I decided to break it up into three different buses, each somewhere between 8 and 12 hours. Plenty of folks just fly from Lima, or take a more roundabout route through other popular tourist towns. However, when the guidebook said, ¨Central Highlands is the place to get off the gringo trail and see authentic Peru at it´s finest,¨I said, ¨Sure.¨ When the guidebook also said, ¨The bus journey is not for the faint of heart¨they weren´t kidding. I am currently only 2/3rds there (day-long layover in Andahuaylas), but there is already enough fodder for a blog post so here it goes. Oh, and sorry no pictures yet. I´m waiting until I get to Cusco and can find a somewhat reliable computer to plug my camera into (as opposed to these magical concrete block structures tucked away in the back of alleyways where I am currently writing you from).
  • I love the ¨Which would you rather¨game, e.g. would you rather have the super power of invisibility or flight? On last night´s bus ride I came up with a new one: Would you rather be able to just be able to extend your legs all the way, or be able to recline your seat for a 9 hour overnight bus ride? I was faced with this predicament and opted for the latter. I´m still not sure which is the better choice.
  • When the guidebook says, ¨Some of the roads to Andahuyalas from Ayacucho aren´t paved¨ they actually mean NONE of the roads are paved. The ride felt like 8 hours in one of those Sharper Image chairs on display at the mall gone horribly awry.
  • I have learned the armrest is functional in additon to comfortable. My first bus I lost the armrest race and just kept my arm to myself. The second bus, however, had no armrest. If it had, perhaps it would have kept the man next to me from basically sleeping in my lap.
  • My first bus was super lush. It had a bathroom, a movie dubbed in spanish, and even a round of Bingo to keep us entertained (I opted out of bingo for fear some one would catch on that I don´t speak spanish). They also showed a bus safety and information video, like airlines do. Of note, the bus is monitored by GPS by ¨central control¨to discourage bandits from trying to hijack the bus. Also, the bathroom is only for urinating. If you must produce something else during the 12 hour ride, please tell the driver and they´ll pull over on the side of the road for you.
  • Yes, there has been a history of bus hijacking around here. I guess something about Maoist rebels - but it was mostly in the 80s and 90s. They actually have metal detectors and what not as your getting on. Hello, airport security. Didn´t think I´d find you here.
  • The bus company´s nam for last night and tonight´s journey is Expreso Los Chankas, which I am sure translates to something. However, because the driving is so bad you want to shut your eyes the whole time, I´ve translated it to The Last Chance Express.
  • I sent a few postcards from Ayacucho, where I was for 2 days. Turns out sending 5 postcards is 50% more expensive than a 8 hour bus ride through the Andes. So, don´t get your hopes up - there won´t be nearly as many postcards sent from this place.
  • Luckily for me, the town of Andahuyalas doesn´t sem to have a ¨homeless people sleeping on park benches problem¨because the benches are perfectly long enough for a normal sized human (i.e. me) to stretch out. Since my bus dropped me off at 3:45 am this morning, I wandered into the town square, locked my baggage to the park bench, and promptly fell asleep for a few hours. I woke up to screaming school children and the bells ringing at the church. Hello, Peru.

Alright, more and photos once I get to Cusco. I spent the extra 5 soles (like $1.80) for the nicer bus tonight with a bano on board. Here´s to hoping.

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